The working world is changing rapidly – and one of the biggest changes is the spectacular growth in the number of over-55 workers and job-seekers.

More of them are working than ever before, and more are looking for work. Some can’t retire; others don’t want to. And – despite stories out there about age discrimination – there’s demand for older workers among the region’s 100 fastest growing, privately-held companies, an annual list created by the Entrepreneurs’ Forum of Greater Philadelphia and The Inquirer. So it’s a good time to polish that resume and start looking.

The working generation

Since 2000, the older part of the workforce has grown rapidly. And it will keep growing: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2028, workers 55 and older will make up a whopping 25.2 percent of all workers.

The rate of growth actually increases with workers’ age. “We know that as of 2016, about nine million Americans 65-plus were employed,” said Susan Weinstock, vice president of financial resilience programming at AARP, the organization formerly known as the American Association of Retired People, “That’s up 60 percent from 2006. That’s an incredible statistic. And that cohort is expected to grow by 51 percent in the next decade.” The bureau also “forecasts a major increase in the 75-plus workforce, from 1.8 million in 2018 to 3.7 million in 2028, a 105 percent increase,” she said.

Locally, a Philadelphia Works analysis of U.S. Census data shows that as of 2017 (last year available), 120,586 people age 55 or older (18.1 percent of the workforce) were working in the city. With Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware and Chester Counties added, the number swells to 464,768, or 23.7 percent of all workers. Leading sectors include health care and social assistance (22 percent in Philly, 18 percent in the five counties) and educational services (11 percent in both).

What’s driving these trends? One big factor: “People are living longer and living healthier, much healthier,” as Weinstock put it. Economic facts of life – shrinking or disappearing pensions or benefits, changes in Social Security, student loan debt, wage stagnation – have left many over-55s believing that they can’t or shouldn’t retire yet.

Besides, many want to keep working. If you’re still feeling good and still like it, why stop?

And in many places, the Wanted sign is out for seniors.

With career in mind

What employers want is seniors’ experience and workplace leadership. One such employer is Careerminds Group Inc., which both serves and hires older workers. Based in Wilmington, Careerminds specializes in virtual outplacement, career coaching, job search and social networking services. It has made the Philadelphia 100 list six years in a row, thanks to a well-timed start-up and its “high-tech, high-touch” approach.

Raymond Lee, founder and CEO, said Careerminds began in 2008. “The recession was starting, and it was just the time to start a disruptive business,” he said. “We focus on assisting employees affected by reductions and layoffs, assisting them through their transition to their next journey.

“The old retirement paradigm no longer applies,” Lee said. “We are seeing a lot of clients 55-70, people of retirement age who feel healthy and aren’t looking to play golf.”

Age and experience are assets at Careerminds, which expects to grow by 20 percent this year and reported $2.4 million in revenue for 2018.

“All of our coaches are pretty much over the age of 55,” Lee said. “They have a passion for helping support employees through these life events. They’ve gone through transitions themselves and can speak from experience, whether coaching an engineer who has been laid off or a CFO.”

The senior advantage: people skills. Weinstock said she’s seeing it nationwide: “Employers really value the ‘soft skills,’ the human touch older workers bring to the workplace.” And work at Careerminds “requires a lot of emotional sensitivity,” Lee said. “The coach needs to be a good listener who understands. It’s very rewarding to watch a coach working with a displaced employee, and in the course of an hour, you’ve built trust and respect, they’re looking forward. That is where our coaches really shine.”

Six habits of successful job-seekers

All job-seekers should do these, but they’re especially crucial for the 55-plus crowd.

  • Stay current in your field. “Stay up-to-date on the latest technology and latest thinking in your line of work,” Weinstock said. “The sharper and smarter you are about the latest skills and technologies,” Lee said, “the less age matters.”
  • Leverage your friends, colleagues and contacts. “Nurture your network,” Weinstock said. “Keep it current, get out there, have coffee with people. That’s how you very well may land a job.”
  • Know your resources and use them. That includes services such as Careerminds and job fairs such as those AARP offers twice yearly online. Visit jobs clearinghouses such as Workforce50.com or SeniorJobBank. And remember local resources such as Philadelphia Works, the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging and the Mayor’s Commission on Aging. Become an expert digital job-searcher, starting with that up-to-date, attractive LinkedIn profile.
  • Tailor every resume to match the job you’re applying for. “Look through the job description, find the keywords, and make sure your resume really responds to them,” Weinstock said. Many companies use tracking bots to winnow out resumes that don’t. “Tailoring your resume is a lot of work, no question,” Weinstock said, “but it’s the only way you are going to get past the algorithms.”
  • Sharpen your interviewing skills. Display your relevance throughout the interview, Lee said: “Your initial remarks should not be about ‘the building that used to be across the street.’ Stay forward-looking and engaged; talk in terms of present and future.” Prepare for questions you know will arise. “Learn your ‘elevator speech’ by heart,” Weinstock said, referring to that punchy 30-second commercial about yourself. “Have it on the tip of your tongue.”
  • Be positive. “After being out of the workforce for a while, it can be easy to lose confidence,” Weinstock said. But hey: They’re looking to hire, and you have a lot to offer. “On interview day,” Weinstock said, “listen to music that will pump you up, make you feel good about yourself, make you feel confident going in.”

Work is more than a way to make money; it’s also purpose and human connection. That may be the great unspoken reason that millions of older Americans want to keep working. That’s why they call it a “work life.”